On 19 March, the Federal Government released its Interim Report on a National Review of Environmental Regulation. The Review is the outcome of a meeting of Environment Ministers in April 2014 consistent with COAG reforms to reduce regulatory complexity, duplication and inconsistency. The Commonwealth, State and Territory Environment Ministers most recently met on 27 February 2015 and issued an Agreement Statement on progressing multi-jurisdictional environmental initiatives (including national approaches on air quality, waste initiatives and threatened species) and reforms to streamline and harmonise environmental regulation.

The Interim Report reflects the ‘red tape’ and ‘green tape’ reduction programmes which have been implemented over the past few years in all States and Territories. Four strategic approaches to jurisdictional reform are identified:

  • Risk-based regulation and proportionate interventions
  • Harmonisation and removing duplication
  • Strategic and landscape scale approaches
  • Market based instruments and other innovative approaches

The Report identifies and provides a review of examples of recent reforms to environmental legislation and policy development in each State and Territory consistent with these strategic approaches. Priority reform opportunities are identified where benefits could be realised from a more consistent national approach. These include:

  • Review of Australia’s Biodiversity Conservation Strategy focusing on the increased use of market based instruments (offset markets), conservation covenants, leveraging private investment in protecting biodiversity
  • Greater use of strategic assessments under the EPBC Act (such as those already undertaken for the Melbourne UGB, Western Sydney Growth Areas and the Molongolo Valley Urban Development in the ACT)
  • Progressing approval bilateral agreements under the EPBC Act
  • Development of a nationally consistent methodology for assessing biodiversity offsets and assessing the potential for a national offsets market
  • Development of a nationally consistent approach to threatened species assessment and listing (noting that differences between jurisdictions’ species listing frameworks have resulted in the development of nine separate threatened species lists that don’t align in relation to the taxa listed, capacity to list critical habitat and the threat categories used)
  • Improved environmental information and data sharing – particular to monitor biodiversity if species listing processes are harmonised
  • Progress on translating NICNAS recommendations for management of environmental risks of industrial chemicals under existing State and Territory legislative frameworks. A consultation regulatory impact statement (RIS) was released in April 2013 identifying 3 options for reform and a decision RIS is currently under preparation for consideration by the Environment Ministers in mid-2015. The options considered in 2013 included a nationally consistent non-statutory environmental risk management decisions for industrial chemicals, model Commonwealth legislation adopted by the States and Territories or a new environmental risk management system implemented under new national legislation.

No timetable is provided for these reform initiatives, but are key areas to watch. We will continue to continue to keep you updated as these reviews and reforms develop at a national and State and Territory level.